God Shammgod is most known for his memorable name and the flashy crossover that he created as a college freshman with the Providence Friars. After all, there aren’t many players who have an iconic move named after them. To this day, “the Shammgod” dribble is used in NBA games by point guards like Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving in an effort to fly past defenders (often in humiliating fashion).
However, there’s much more to the 39-year-old, whose professional playing career spanned 20 seasons. Now, Shammgod is making a name for himself with a different kind of move: The former point guard is crossing over to coaching, as he currently serves as a graduate assistant under Ed Cooley at Providence.
Shammgod works as a trainer for the Friars’ guards and has made a significant impact since returning to the program where he once starred. He played an instrumental role in the development of guards Bryce Cotton (who most recently played for the Utah Jazz) and Kris Dunn (who’s being projected as a top pick in the 2016 NBA Draft). In addition to training Providence’s players, he says he has also worked with NBA players like Isaiah Thomas, Ben Gordon and Ricky Ledo among others.
He first joined Cooley’s staff as an undergraduate assistant in 2012, but he is now a graduate assistant after recently receiving his degree. As he continues to gain experience on the sideline and help guards make huge strides, he’s being recognized as a coach with a lot of potential and the ability to help players better themselves on and off the court.
“During my last year in China, I was kind of a player-coach and I had trained their National Team’s guards for the Olympics so that gave me my first taste of training players and coaching,” Shammgod said. “I decided to forgo the final year of my contract in China to come back to the United States and finish my degree. When I got drafted, I promised my mother I would finish my degree. So I decided to do that and when I returned to Providence, everyone embraced me so much. I started helping MarShon Brooks and some other guys work out. It was a great fit and it took off from there. That’s when I realized I wanted to coach.”
Players respect Shammgod, which has helped him as he transitions from playing to coaching. They know of his incredible handles, long playing career and legendary streetball status. They certainly know his unforgettable name. He Got Game director Spike Lee once told the New York Times that he came up with the name Jesus Shuttlesworth for Ray Allen’s character after he watched God Shammgod play, became a fan of his game and believed his “mythical name… heightens the legend.”
Players also listen to Shammgod because he has been in their shoes and has plenty of life experience to share. In 1995, he was a McDonald’s All-American alongside future NBA stars Kevin Garnett, Vince Carter, Chauncey Billups, Paul Pierce, Stephon Marbury, Antawn Jamison and Shareef Abdur-Rahim while developing a reputation as one of the best ball-handlers in the nation. After two years in college, Shammgod entered the 1997 NBA Draft and was selected by the Washington Bullets with the 45th overall pick.
Shammgod spent just one season in the NBA and often says that he was “20 years ahead of his time” because teams were turned off by his tendency to dominate the ball. While many of today’s guards are encouraged to take over games, Shammgod was urged to get the ball out of his hands despite the fact that his dribbling and creating were his biggest strengths. Shammgod says NBA decision-makers told him that the only way he’d have a future in the league is if he became a spot-up shooter and passed the ball to his team’s bigs.
After that lone NBA season, Shammgod continued his career overseas, where he was allowed to play his game and handle the ball much more. Over the next two decades, he had stints in China, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Croatia as well as American stops in the Continental Basketball Association, International Basketball League and United States Basketball League.
While he never achieved the mainstream NBA success of his peers, he had a nice career, influenced many players and developed a strong circle of friends from his playing days (which should also help him in his coaching career).
“He has that respect from the moment he meets a kid because he’s a streetball legend; everybody knows who God Shammgod is or, at the very least, you’ve heard of him,” Cleveland Cavaliers associate head coach Tyronn Lue said. “That alone means a lot, especially for the kids in New York who grew up hearing up about him and now get a chance to work with him. That means a lot for those kids. He definitely has a ton of respect from everyone, and that’s really important.
“He’s doing a great job as a coach and he always sends me the videos of his players working out, doing the ball-handling and shooting drills. He’s helping those guys. Also, he’s a great mentor because of the things he’s been through and the things he’s seen growing up, playing in the NBA, going overseas and being a streetball legend. He has so much to offer and give. I really love the mentor part. That’s big. He’s been there and guys respect that. They look up to him.”
NBA champion Chauncey Billups, who has been close with Shammgod since they trained together for the 1997 NBA Draft, agrees that his friend’s journey will help him in his post-playing career.
“He has the experience and that absolutely helps,” Billups said. “Coaches can say, ‘Do this, do that,’ but when you have a guy who has actually been through it like Shammgod, that’s so valuable. He’s not telling guys about things he’s learned from other coaches or things he’s heard. He’s telling them what he’s been through. He can tell you what to do and what not to do. I’m pretty sure if Shamm could do it all over again, there would be some different decisions made that probably would’ve propelled him to a 10-to-15-year NBA career, so being able to own that and then being courageous enough to pass those lessons on to kids is great. He can tell guys, ‘This is what I did, this is what I should’ve done and you shouldn’t make these mistakes.’ He has a chance to do something special and that message resonates a lot stronger with these kids than anything a coach who hasn’t been through it can tell you.
“I think he has done a phenomenal job. He has a wealth of knowledge that these kids need. These kids want to be pros, they want to be in the NBA, and Shammgod has been through a lot and seen a lot. His lessons are great for these young fellas. And, look, a lot of people can’t go through all of that and then turn around and teach. Shamm has done an incredible job of teaching these guys about what he’s been through and helping guys not go through a bump [in the road] like he did. And these guys have really grown to trust him and really respect him. He’s a huge asset to these guys.”
Shammgod has always enjoyed helping other players improve their ball-handling. It’s something he has done since he was a child. In fact, he says his first training sessions technically took place when he was in high school at the famed ABCD Camp. Each day, there was a young guard who would wake up early to work out with Shammgod and try to learn his moves. The high school junior was determined to master the crossovers and add them to his arsenal.
The kid was Kobe Bryant.
“The first person I ever trained in my life was Kobe Bryant,” Shammgod said with a laugh. “I was going into the 12th grade and he was in the 11th grade and we were at the ABCD Camp. We would get up early every day at the camp and I’d show him some dribbling moves and things like that. I’ve always liked to help other players and show them some things. That’s always been in me since day one, and I’ve kind of been training people my whole life without really knowing it.”
Bryant isn’t the only player who Shammgod impacted. Two years ago, Shammgod had the opportunity to meet Chris Paul. Shammgod said that the Los Angeles Clippers point guard credited Shammgod and Tim Hardaway with influencing his ball-handling (which explains why “the Shammgod” is a part of Paul’s repertoire).
Because he never lit up the NBA, it’s easy to forget just how talented Shammgod was during his playing days. But talk to basketball lifers and just about everyone has a Shammgod story.
“This is a story that most people wouldn’t tell, but I’ll tell it,” Lue said with a laugh. “Me and Shammgod met when we were entering our senior year of high school and we were playing AAU basketball. He was playing for Brooklyn USA and I was playing for Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. We played a game at the University of Purdue. Now, I had heard his name and heard some things about him, but in the Midwest you don’t see a lot of guys who can handle the ball and do what he could do. The first time we played against each other, he had 40 points on me. Like, he killed me. Some of the tricks he was doing with the ball, being in the Midwest, we had never seen anything like that before. It was just like, ‘What?!’
“Our team liked to full-court press a lot. Well, he caught the ball against the press and just dribbled through his legs down the length of the court, beating the press and making it look so easy. Everyone on our team just turned to each other like, ‘What the hell?’ It was kind of crazy. Then, at the end of a quarter when guys will usually just hold the ball and wait for the last shot, Shammgod came just barely across half-court and stood right next to the sideline, rocking the ball back and forth. I mean, if he had mishandled the ball by one inch it’s either out of bounds or a backcourt violation. But he’s just rocking the ball back and forth for 10 seconds, staring the defense down and doing whatever he wants. That was my first time meeting Shammgod and playing against him, and I’ll always remember that because it was just crazy seeing a guy who could handle the ball the way he did and do the things he did. We stayed in touch from that point on.”
Today, Shammgod is influencing the next generation of basketball talent. As a trainer, Shammgod tries to help his young players on and off the court. While he obviously wants to improve their ball-handling and point guard skills, he also wants to be a mentor to them and ensure that his pupils learn from his experiences and mistakes as a pro. That ability to help players with every aspect of their development separates Shammgod from some other trainers.
His work with former Providence guard Bryce Cotton helped the point guard get on the NBA’s radar, and he most recently played for the Utah Jazz.
“We both went to the same school and when he came back [to Providence], I was going into my junior year and we just hit it off right away,” Cotton said. “We worked out every single day and I loved the improvements that I saw, so I’ve been working with him ever since. He helped my mindset and he helped me become a much better point guard. He has so many different tricks that he used to use back in the day and since we’re around the same size, he passed those on to me and they were really helpful. I think the sky is the limit for him; he’s a tremendous trainer. Every single person who has worked out with him at Providence has seen enormous growth in their game.”
Now, Shammgod is working with Kris Dunn, who is projected to be one of the top prospects in the 2016 NBA Draft. DraftExpress currently has him being selected as the seventh overall pick. Dunn worked out with Shammgod every day during the summer and raves about the experience.
“I first met him during my freshman year at Providence; he knew I was a McDonald’s All-American and I knew he was a McDonald’s All-American so right away there was a connection,” Dunn said. “I’ve always known who God Shammgod is because of the move that he created and because he’s just such an amazing dribbler. The fact that he showed me love right away made me feel special.
“He has helped me a lot. In the summer, that’s my guy. I’ve been going to him every summer and I’ve been getting better every year because of him, so I just try to stay with him and work with him as much as possible. The biggest lessons from him are just about being yourself and knowing who you are. We’ve done a lot of drills to improve my ball-handling, read a ball screen, perfect my decision-making and things like that. I’m always picking his brain and asking him how to get better because he’s so knowledgeable when it comes to the game. But what a lot of people don’t know is the off-court stuff. He’s been a mentor to me on the court, but really I view him as a big brother who has also been there for me off the court. We’re always discussing things that have nothing to do with basketball and he has taught me a lot about life in general. There’s just so much that he has done for me and I appreciate all of it. He’s one of the first guys who I go to if I’m having a bad day or a bad game because he’s been there, knows what it’s like and how to bounce back. He has so much life experience that he can share.”
On the court, Shammgod will preach that his guys need to do things like “keep the ball low, dribble quick and be creative.” But, as Dunn said, Shammgod also wants to help players off the court and form long-lasting bonds.
“My advice is to never take anything for granted, always work hard and try to do things the right way,” Shammgod said. “We have our plan and God has his plan, and I try to tell guys not to rush God’s plan. When I was at Providence, I feel like I rushed my plan along. I thought I was set up to do great things and I thought leaving [for the NBA] after my sophomore year was part of God’s plan, but I rushed it. So I always tell guys to be patient and that there’s no substitute for hard work. No matter how many business opportunities that guys like LeBron or Kobe or whoever has, none of those happen without basketball, so you need to give basketball 110 percent, focus on the present and work as hard as you can every single day.
“I also try to talk to guys about life – things like taking care of their family and seeing the big picture. It’s much more than a trainer-player relationship. Kris and Bryce are like my little brothers; that’s how I view them. I don’t necessarily consider myself a trainer. I’m just a person [in your life] who is focused on making you better. Period. I want to work on improving their skill development, but I also want to work on improving their mind. You want to have an impact on people for the rest of their life, not just in that moment you’re training them. You want to make a long-term impact. I think that’s the sign of a great coach – when you can have much more than a coach-player relationship and be the coach who is invited to the player’s wedding years later when they’re in the NBA and things like that. You build that real, life-long relationship.”
Shammgod is proud of his young prospects and their recent success.
“We worked hard all summer, so it’s been great to see all of that work pay off for Bryce and Kris,” Shammgod said. “I’m just honored that I’m still relevant enough for them to want to listen to me. These are elite athletes. And the way I look at it, they’re helping me grow just as much as I’m helping them. I just feel blessed that everything is coming together for them like we talked about and that they’re having success. That’s the ultimate reward for me, seeing those guys have success.”
What’s the long-term plan for Shammgod? He says he doesn’t consider himself a trainer and he’s currently a graduate assistant for Providence. Where does he hope to be several years from now?
“Eventually, I want to be a coach,” Shammgod said. “I think Coach Cooley is doing a wonderful job preparing me to be a coach in the long term. Coach [Andre] LaFleur, Coach [Brian] Blaney, Coach [Jeff] Battle and Coach [Kevin] Kurbec have helped me and I pick their brains so that I can try to learn something from each other and one day be a great coach like they are. Right now, they’re my inspiration. They do it the right way, especially Coach Cooley. I just feel honored to even be part of the staff. If I was 18 years old and I could do it all over again, I would play for Coach Cooley in a heartbeat. I would love for my coaching journey – if God blesses me – to follow the same path that Coach Cooley has taken.”
His peers and pupils believe he’d make a great NCAA or NBA head coach someday.
“I think he’d be successful,” Billups said. “Knowing him, he’s a strong-willed person and when he puts his mind to something, he will attain it eventually. If that’s what he wants to do, he’d be great at it. He’s going to put the time in and work hard. He’s not someone who thinks, ‘Okay, I’m Shammgod and have done this and that so I’ll be successful.’ No, he’s going to learn, he’s going to work and he’s going to put the time in. He’s doing that right now, sitting behind these coaches, respecting them and learning from them. He’s someone who is always going to be put in the necessary time to be successful at his craft.”
“Can he be a head coach? Why not?” Lue said. “He’s already making an impact with these kids and, honestly, I think that’s harder to do than it is on the NBA level. When you’re dealing with kids, you’re dealing with AAU coaches and parents and all of that. At least on the NBA level, it’s just all basketball. I see him being someone who comes in and does player development first, getting his feet wet that way, and then working his way up. But I don’t see why he couldn’t become a head coach someday. Why not?”
“I think he’d be great,” Dunn said. “His brand alone would really help him. I mean, he’s God Shammgod! Everybody knows him – from the pros, to the college players, to the high schoolers, to the kids. His brand and name alone will automatically help him. But it’s not just that – he has what it takes on and off the court to really succeed in that role. He’s so knowledgeable, he’s a teacher and he has a great basketball IQ. And off the court, he can get along with anybody because of his personality. If you don’t like God Shammgod, well, to be honest, you aren’t a good person (laughs). I say that because he’s a great individual. He’s always worried about other people rather than focusing on himself and he’s so considerate. Also, I think he’d do an excellent job recruiting, especially guys in New York since he came from there and he’s still known as the best ball-handler from there. He can teach anyone how to dribble and read screens and all of that. I definitely think he could be a great head coach.”
“There’s no question that he’ll be a college or NBA coach at some point,” Cotton said. “He has a great knowledge of the game, and he has such a creative mind when it comes to creating workouts and helping players get better. Anybody would be lucky to have him as their coach.”
With a coaching career seemingly in his future, the legend of God Shammgod continues.
NBA Daily: Examining Michael Porter Jr.’s Ascension
Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. is averaging over 25 points per game and looks like a future All-NBA player. Bobby Krivitsky examines Porter’s ascent and the questions that come with it.
Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. has taken his game to new heights.
In the wake of Murray’s ACL tear in mid-April, Porter’s playing time has gone from 30.6 minutes per contest to 35.7, while his shots per game have risen from 12.6 per game to 16.5. The increased responsibility has fueled his ascent. He’s knocking down 56.3 percent of those attempts. He’s taking 8.2 threes per game and making a blistering 50 percent of them. As a result, Porter’s gone from averaging 17.5 points per game to 25.1. He’s also grabbing 6.1 rebounds and blocking almost one shot per contest.
At the time of Murray’s injury, the Denver Nuggets were in fourth place in the Western Conference. They remain there now, 9-4 in his absence, and they boast the eighth-highest net rating in the NBA.
The only way for the Nuggets to fall from fourth would be if they lost their four remaining games and the Dallas Mavericks won their final five contests because the Mavericks have the tiebreaker since they won the season series. On the more realistic end of the spectrum, Denver sits just 1.5 games back of the Los Angeles Clippers, who occupy the third seed in the West. The Nuggets won their season series against the Clippers, meaning they’d finish in third if the two teams ended the regular season with the same record.
There’s a bevy of questions surrounding Porter’s recent play that need to be asked but cannot get answered at the moment. That starts with whether this is anything more than a hot streak. While it’s impossible to say definitively, it’s reasonable to believe Porter can consistently and efficiently produce about 25 points per game. He was the second-ranked high school prospect in 2017 and entered his freshman year at Missouri firmly in the mix for the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft. That was thanks in large part to his offensive prowess as a 6-10 wing with a smooth shot that’s nearly impossible to block because of the elevation he gets when he shoots.
A back injury cost him all but 53 minutes of his collegiate career and caused him to fall to the 14th pick in the draft. He ended up in an ideal landing spot, going to a well-run organization that’s also well aware of its barren track record luring star players looking to change teams, making it vital for the Nuggets to hit on their draft picks.
Porter’s first year in the NBA was exclusively dedicated to the rehab process and doing everything possible to ensure he can have a long, healthy and productive career. Last season, finally getting a chance to play, he showed off the tantalizing talent that made him a top prospect but only took seven shots per game while trying to fit in alongside Nikola Jokic, Murray, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant.
More experience, including battling against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, an offseason, albeit a truncated one, to prepare for a more substantial role with Grant joining the Detroit Pistons and Millsap turning 36 this year, helped propel Porter.
But for the Nuggets, before Murray’s injury, the perception was that even though they weren’t the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, they were a legitimate title contender. How far can they go if Porter’s consistently contributing about 25 points and over six rebounds per game while effectively playing the role of a second star alongside Jokic?
It seems fair to cross Denver off the list of title contenders. But, if Porter continues to capably play the role of a second star alongside Jokic when doing so becomes more challenging in the postseason, the Nuggets can advance past a team like the Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers. And at a minimum, they’d have the ability to make life difficult for whoever they had to face in the second round of the playoffs.
Unfortunately, the timing of Murray’s ACL tear, which happened in mid-April, means there’s a legitimate possibility he misses all of next season. Denver’s increased reliance on Porter is already allowing a young player with All-NBA potential to take on a role that’s closer to the one he’s assumed his whole life before making it to the sport’s highest level. If the Nuggets are counting on him to be the second-best player on a highly competitive team in the Western Conference next season, it’ll be fascinating to see what heights he reaches and how far they’re able to go as a team.
Theoretically, Porter’s growth could make it difficult for Denver to reacclimate Murray. But given Jokic’s unselfish style of play, there’s room for both of them to be satisfied by the volume of shots they’re getting. Unfortunately, the Nuggets have to wait, potentially another season, but Jokic is 26-years-old, Murray 24, Porter 22. When Denver has their Big Three back together, they could be far more potent while still being able to enjoy a lengthy run as legitimate title contenders.
NBA Daily: D’Angelo Russell Back on Track
D’Angelo Russell lost much of the 2020-21 season to injury. Drew Maresca explains why his return will surprise people around the league.
D’Angelo Russell was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves last February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entire season. But we’ve yet to see what Russell can really do in Minnesota.
The Timberwolves acquired Russell in late February in exchange for a future first-round pick – which transitions this season if they pick later than third – a 2021 second-round pick and Andrew Wiggins.
Sidenote: For those keeping score at home, the Timberwolves currently have the third-worst record in the league with five games remaining. It would behoove Minnesota to lose as many of their remaining games as possible to keep their 2021 pick. If the pick does not transition this season, it becomes unrestricted in 2020.
Trying to turn an owed pick into an unprotected future first is usually the wrong move; but in this instance, it’s better to keep the high first-rounder this year with an understanding that your 2022 pick will probably fall in or around the middle of the lottery.
The thinking around the deal was that Minnesota could qualify for the playoffs as soon as this season by swapping Wiggins’ contract for a young, talented lead guard in Russell. It has not played out as planned.
COVID resulted in a play stoppage shortly after the deal, robbing Russell of the opportunity to ramp up with his new team. When the NBA returned to finish the 2019-20 season, the Timberwolves failed to qualify for bubble play – and considering the US was still battling a global pandemic, Russell couldn’t easily practice with his new teammates and/or coaches.
The 2020-21 season began weirdly, too. The NBA proceeded with an abbreviated training camp and preseason. And while this impacted all teams, Russell was additionally hindered by the decision.
Ready or not, the season began. In 2020-21, Russell is averaging a near-career low in minutes per game (28.2) across just 36 games. He’s tallying 19.1 points per game on 43.6% shooting and a career-best 38.8% on three-point attempts. He’s also he’s posting a near career-best assist-to-turnover ratio (5.7 to 2.8).
Despite Russell’s contributions, the Timberwolves have failed to meet expectations. Far from the playoff squad they hoped to be, Minnesota is in contention for the top pick in this year’s draft. So what has gone wrong in Minneapolis?
Russell’s setbacks are fairly obvious. In addition to the lack of preparation with his teammates and coaches, Russell was diagnosed with a “loose body” in his knee, requiring arthroscopic knee surgery in February. As a result, he missed 27 consecutive games. Russell returned on April 5, but head coach Chris Finch revealed that he’d been on a minutes restriction until just recently.
Minnesota is clearly being cautious with Russell. Upon closer review, Russell has been restricted to under 30 minutes per game in all of his first 10 games back. Since then, Russell is averaging 31 minutes per game including an encouraging 37 minutes on May 5 in a four-point loss to Memphis.
Since returning from knee surgery, Russell is averaging 27 minutes per game across 16 games. Despite starting 19 of the team’s first 20 games, he hadn’t started in any game since returning – until Wednesday.
On the whole, Russell’s impact is about the same as it was prior to the injury, which should be encouraging to Timberwolves’ fans. He’s scoring slightly less (18.8 points since returning vs. 19.3 prior), shooting better from the field (44.9% since returning vs 42.6%% prior) and has been just slightly worse from three-point range (37.4% since vs. 39.9 prior). He’s dishing out more assists per game (6.5 since vs. 5.1 prior), too, and he posted three double-digit assist games in his last five contents – a feat achieved only once all season prior to his last five games.
Despite playing more and dropping more dimes, there’s still room to improve. Looking back to his career-bests, Russell averaged 23.1 points per game in 2019-20 in 33 games with Golden State (23.6) and 12 games with Minnesota (21.7).
But his most impactful season came in 2018-19 with the Brooklyn Nets. That season, Russell averaged 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game, leading the Nets to the playoffs and earning his first trip to the All-Star game. He looked incredibly comfortable, playing with supreme confidence and flashing the ability to lead a playoff team.
At his best, Russell is a dynamic playmaker. The beauty of Russell is that he can also play off the ball. He has a quick release on his jumper and impressive range. His game is not predicated on athleticism, meaning he should stay at his peak for longer than guys like De’Aaron Fox and Ja Morant.
And while he’s been in the league for what feels like ever (six seasons), Russell just turned 25 approximately two months ago. Granted, comparing anyone to Steph Curry is unwise, but Curry wasn’t Steph Curry yet at 25. Former MVP Steve Nash hadn’t yet averaged double-digits (points) at 25. Twenty-five is also an inflection point for Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. And the list goes on.
To be fair, Russell was drafted at 19 so he’s more acclimated to the league at this age than most, but his game will continue expanding nonetheless. He’ll develop trickier moves, become stronger and grow his shooting range. And a good deal of that growth should be evident as soon as next season since he’ll be fully healed from knee surgery and have a full offseason and training camp to finally work with teammates and coaches.
So while Minnesota’s 2020-21 season was incredibly bleak, their future is quite bright – and much of it has to do with the presence of Russell.
NBA AM: Is This It for Indiana?
Following their major drop-off, Matt John explains why the Pacers trying to get back to where they were may not be the best decision.
Remember when, following the maligned trade of Paul George, the sky was the limit for the Indiana Pacers? The 2017-18 Pacers were one of the best stories in the NBA that season because they made their opponents work for their victories, and they put on a spectacle every night.
It’s hard to believe that all transpired three whole years ago. When Cleveland eliminated Indiana in a very tight first-round series, I asked if having the exciting season that they did – when many thought it would turn out the opposite – was going to benefit them in the long run. Three years later, this happens.
Goga Bitadze and Pacers assistant coach Greg Foster got into a heated discussion.
Myles Turner and multiple other players got involved to attempt to break up the confrontation. pic.twitter.com/9Xr96HmJg8
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 6, 2021
We were getting plenty of smoke about the Pacers’ drama behind-the-scenes beforehand, and now, we have seen the fire firsthand. More and more reports indicate that the crap has hit the fan. Indiana has seemingly already had enough of Nate Bjorkgren in only his first year as his coach. When you see the results they’ve had this season compared to the last three, it’s not hard to see why.
The Pacers have routinely found themselves in the 4-5 playoff matchup for the last three years. Sadly, despite their fight – and, to be fair, they had pretty awful injury luck the past two postseasons – they haven’t been able to get over the hump in the first round. They may not have been in the elite tier, but they weren’t slouches either. So, seeing them not only fail to take the next step but look more and more likely for the play-in is as discouraging as it gets. Especially after they started the season 6-2.
If these reports about the tensions between the players and Bjorkgren are real, then this has already become a lost season for the Pacers. It’s too late in the season to make any major personnel changes. At this point, their best route is just to cut their losses and wait until this summer to think over what the next move is.
In that case, let’s take a deep breath. This has been a weird season for everyone. Every aspect minus the playoffs has been shorter than usual since last October. Everything was shortened from the offseason to the regular season. Oh, and COVID-19 has played a role as the season has turned out, although COVID-19 has probably been the least of Indy’s problems. Let’s think about what next season would look like for Indiana.
TJ Warren comes back with a clean bill of health. Caris Levert gets more acquainted with the team and how they run. Who knows? Maybe they finally resolve the Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis situation once and for all. A new coach can come aboard to steady the ship, and it already looks like they have an idea for who that’s going to be
Report: Mike D’Antoni ‘leader in the clubhouse’ to become the next Pacers head coach https://t.co/42Ik5nPTyU
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) May 6, 2021
Should they run it back, there’s a solid chance they can get back to where they were before. But that’s sort of the problem to begin with. Even if this recent Pacers’ season turns out to be just a negative outlier, their ceiling isn’t all too high anyway. A team that consists of Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, and Caris Levert as their core four is a solid playoff team. Having Turner, Doug McDermott, TJ McConnell, Jeremy Lamb, and the Holiday brothers rounds out a solid playoff team. Anyone who takes a good look at this roster knows that this roster is a good one. It’s not great though.
Just to be clear, Indiana has plenty of ingredients for a championship team. They just don’t have the main one: The franchise player. Once upon a time, it looked like that may have been Oladipo, but a cruel twist of fate took that all away. This isn’t a shot at any of the quality players they have on their roster, but think of it this way.
For the next couple of years, they’re going to go up against Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. All of whom are on the same team. For potentially even longer, they’ll be going up against the likes of Giannis Antetoukounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Jayson Tatum. With the roster they have, they could make a series interesting against any one of those teams. However, it’s a rule of thumb in the NBA that the team with the best player usually wins the series. Not to mention, they’d have to beat most of the teams those players play for to go on a substantial playoff run. That’s a pretty tall order.
There’s no joy in talking about the Pacers like this because they have built this overachieving underdog from nothing more than shrewd executive work. They turned a disgruntled and expiring Paul George into Oladipo and Sabonis. Both of whom have since become two-time all-stars (and counting). They then managed to turn an expiring and hobbled Oladipo – who had no plans to return to Indiana – into the electric Levert. They also pretty much stole Brogdon and Warren away while paying very little for either of them.
That is fantastic work. The only hangup is that, as of now, it just doesn’t seem like it will be enough. But, doubt and skepticism are things Indiana’s had thrown their way consistently since 2017. Many thought their approach to trading Paul George would blow up in their face, and since then, they’ve done everything in their power to make everyone eat their words.
Kevin Pritchard’s got his work cut out for him this summer. This season will hopefully turn out to be nothing more than performance ruined by both the wrong coaching hire and an unusual season that produced negatively skewed results. But at this point, Pritchard’s upcoming course of action this summer shouldn’t be about getting his team back to where they were, but deciding whether he can get them a step or two further than that by adding more to what they have or starting over completely.
Indiana’s had a rough go of it in this COVID-shortened season, but their disappointing play may have little to no bearing on where they go from here.